A Plea For A Little Decency From The Fans
Photo by Nathaniel Welch
My wife and I travel to tournaments with our young children, and we have one strict rule: The kids aren't allowed to step foot past player dining. I don't even want them coming out for five minutes to the flash area where I get interviewed after rounds. Maybe it's just a sign of my maturity, but I believe the amount of obscenities we hear from the crowd has gotten way worse since I began my career. It used to be Phoenix was the raucous one, but now it's half a dozen events. I'm not the only player who insists his kids stay inside the clubhouse or hotel.
Yes, I've fantasized about punching spectators. The closest I ever came was a Saturday one year at Phoenix. It wasn't quite noon, so theoretically still short of the drunkest hours, but I'm coming off a tee box when a man shouts a vulgar comment about my then-3-month-old daughter. Normally I'll just keep walking, but this was so far beyond the line. I stopped and turned to the gallery, the blood in my face pumping hot. "Who said it?" I asked. "Who's the big man?"
Not a peep. Why a crowd of people, presumably some with at least average moral decency, would protect such a person—I have no idea.
Later in that same round a sheriff joined our group. I told him the story and asked what would've happened if I stuck a 2-iron up this guy's you know what. The sheriff said he would've pulled me off him and probably brought us downtown, but his department wouldn't have pressed charges against me. What the idiot had said was that awful.
Most rounds I don't play with security. You only get a police escort if you're paired with a big-name player or in the last few groups on Sunday. Not that a couple badges with guns is a guaranteed deterrent. Earlier this year, I was playing with Jason Day when three guys in their early 20s stepped across the rope and started walking with us. Our caddies moved to the middle, and the two patrolmen behind us quickened their pace. These punks didn't yell, but you could tell they were lit. They start mouthing hateful things to Day, mentioning his wife. Now, I'm not sure why anyone would target Jason, who's one of the nicest guys you'll meet out here, but I guess some people feel the price of their ticket entitles them to that most special experience of getting hammered and harassing a pro golfer. Day keeps his cool, just says to the patrolmen, "I think it's time for these fellas to go home," and that was that. The world saw Justin Thomas get a fan tossed coming down the stretch when he won at Palm Beach this spring. But the truth is, it happens every week.
Our security on tour does a fantastic job—they handle tons of problems and threats we never even see or hear about—but one stupid fan can still rattle you. You make three birdies in a row, then a drink gets poured on you as you're walking through a grandstand. Rhythm gone. It definitely took me a few seasons to learn to not let it affect my game. At least not too much.
Some of the younger players like that the atmosphere of our tour is getting to be more like a football or basketball game. They think it's fun and can thrive off that energy. I'd prefer to see golf remain something special. Because we don't play in a traditional stadium, a regular ticket allows anyone to watch the biggest stars from eight feet. The price for that access should be a little civility.
I'm not sure when I'll allow my kids to watch me play in person. I suppose in their early teens, when they'll probably know all the bad words anyway. Problem is, it'll be harder then for them to miss school, and who knows if they'll even want to travel to golf tournaments on their summer vacation. It's a shame, because I'm pretty proud of having made it to this level in professional sports, and it'd be cool if they could have memories of watching their dad compete.
But I won't risk them having the wrong kind of memory.